Ph.D., Duke University
Neural Correlates of Auditory Perception: Effects of hearing loss and experience during development.
The neural coding of complex natural signals, such as animal communication sounds, is not well understood. We take advantage of variations in each animal's ability to discriminate these sounds, and use this variability to identify the neural mechanisms that encode these signals. For example, animals will vary naturally in their perceptual abilities due to age; this emerges from maturational differences in the nervous system. Animals will also vary due to their auditory experience, which we can manipulate and which affects nervous system development. We can then correlate perception with neural activity: correlating animal's discrimination performance with their neural activity allows us to identify the neural coding that underlies specific perceptual abilities.
To this end, we are examining the development and dysfunction of acoustic communication in the Mongolian gerbil. Gerbils are social animals with a hearing range comparable to humans and distinct communication signals in that range. We use behavioral, electrophysiological, and computational techniques to examine how species-specific communications are represented across populations of cells in the nervous system, and how those representations shift with normal and pathological auditory experiences.
We can address questions such as: How do hearing deficits affect the processing of natural signals? How are behaviorally relevant signals represented in the auditory system? How are the representations encoded in the activity patterns of single neurons and populations of cells across different brain regions?